V is for Veranda: ‘Architecting’ in the Americas, A Case Study from Guyana

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As Michelle Joan Wilkinson explains in ARC Magazine, “Architecting” can be understood as an action of architecture. “V is for Veranda” considers architecting as an expressive practice of designing and making informed by the broader contexts of a living culture, and not confined solely to the licensing conferred by architectural schools and examinations. Here she describes her new project, which weaves together personal, oral, and social history with architectural and design history:

My maternal grandfather, a black man, was a prolific builder of concrete homes in Guyana, South America. In 1954, Wilkinson built a concrete house for his family in a small, predominantly Indo-Caribbean village outside Georgetown, the capital city well-known for its impressive Victorian-era wooden structures. Erected on a main thoroughfare, the house made an impact as a new architectural contribution to the village landscape in what was then British Guiana. The house’s public-facing veranda and patio, timber rooted construction, and painted exterior walls contrasted with the modest wood slat homes, many on stilts, surrounding it. This “modern,” poured concrete structure incorporated architectural innovations from Dutch and other European models. The style and science of its construction was informed also by African, East Indian, and Amerindian building practices—given the skills of its construction crew and its need for durability in a coastal area below sea level. The house’s location exposed the social ramifications of a black family occupying a prime domestic space within a majority Indo-Caribbean community in an ethnically complex, and often class-stratified country.

My project weaves personal history, oral history, and social history together with architectural and design history. I view design as an action for making possible other actions. Decisions about architectural design, interior furnishings, and city planning affect social relations, interpersonal exchanges, even friendships. In particular, the project explores how one builder used elements of domestic, vernacular architecture and attention to modernist, international styles to engineer social integration and inter-ethnic civility in an era tainted by racial strife. Beginning with a case study of architecture in Guyana, I seek to explore Caribbean architectural heritage in the pre- and post-independence eras and to recover the innovations of native builders, like my grandfather.

I am seeking funding to present “V is for Veranda” at an international conference on design history in September 2013. Last year, I self-funded a research trip to Guyana to view archives and to visually document architecture. It was an amazing experience! Now, I am eager to take the project one step further to present my ongoing research at “Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives,” a major conference in Ahmedabad, India, where I will have the opportunity to engage with other specialist scholars in the field. Although traveling to India is costly, the locale conveys an added research benefit given the influence of Guyana’s large Indo-Caribbean population on the country’s architectural identity, and the 1954 house’s location within an Indo-Caribbean Guyanese community.

For more information, read full article at http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/2013/08/michelle-joan-wilkinsons-v-is-for-veranda-fundraiser/

To contribute, go to Wilkinson’s Fundrazr page

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